BDS condemns Unilever’s sale of Ben & Jerry’s to Israeli affiliate

Unilever announced that it had sold its business interests in Israel to Avi Zinger, the owner of Ben & Jerry's Israel (AFP)

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  July 1, 2022

Following backlash from pro-Israel groups, Israeli politicians and US lawmakers, Unilever announced on Wednesday that it had sold its business interests in Israel.

The Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) has condemned the recent sale of the business interests of Ben & Jerry’s in Israel, effectively reversing a decision made by the ice cream maker to stop operating in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

“We condemn Unilever’s decision and its attempt to subvert the principled stand by Ben & Jerry’s board,” the BDS movement said in a statement.

“If implemented, Unilever’s decision would appease Israel, further implicating the company in Israel’s decades-old system of oppression against Palestinians.”

In July of last year, Ben & Jerry’s said its commercial operations in illegally occupied territory were “inconsistent” with its values and that it would not be renewing its licence agreement when it would expire at the end of the following year.

Following a wave of backlash from pro-Israel groups, Israeli politicians as well as US lawmakers, Unilever, the parent company of the ice cream brand, announced on Wednesday that it had sold its business interests in Israel to Avi Zinger, the owner of Ben & Jerry’s Israel. 

“BDS lost. I now have the right to sell Ben & Jerry’s using its Hebrew and Arabic name…forever,” Zinger said about the decision.

Despite Unilever’s announcement, Ben & Jerry’s said that it did not approve of the decision and found it incompatible with its values.

“We are aware of the Unilever announcement. While our parent company has taken this decision, we do not agree with it,” the company tweeted on Wednesday.

“We continue to believe it is inconsistent with Ben & Jerry’s values for our ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

Reviews of Unilever

Ben & Jerry’s decision last year to halt its operations in the occupied Palestinian territories was met with both applause and caution by Palestinian activists. However, US states reacted viscerally, with several of them moving to divest from its parent company, Unilever, in response.

Arizona was one of the first states to do so, reducing its $143m investments in the company to zero last year.

However, now that Unilever has paved the way for the ice cream to be sold in the occupied territories, several of those US states are reviewing whether or not to reinvest in the company, according to a report by Responsible Investor.

Officials from Arizona, New York, New Jersey, and Texas said that they are now reviewing the situation.

“I am pleased that Unilever overturned the decision made by Ben & Jerry’s and changed their course of action to boycott Israel as I requested in September 2021,” Arizona Treasurer Kimberly Yee said.

“I am disappointed it took this long for a decision to be made. Our investment team will undertake a careful review of Unilever before deciding to invest again.”